Archive for the 'Collection' Category

Raving and Melancholy Madness on tour

Last week we said ‘au revoir’ to our two well-known statues, Raving and Melancholy Madness.  They have gone on their travels first to Frankfurt and then on to Ghent, before rejoining us back at Bethlem next Autumn ready for the opening of our new museum.  We wish them a safe journey and look forward to having them back with us soon!

Statues on the move     Statue on crates

Statue outside     Statues on truck

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More Blogged About Than Blogging

We don’t know whether it is literally true that we are more blogged about than blogging – we do blog rather a lot – but from time to time the Archives & Museum does feature on blogs other than this one. Last year it was featured in blog posts written for universities, museums and chess clubs inter alia. We are always pleased about opportunities to reach a wider audience, and would like to thank bloggers, re-posters and re-tweeters alike.

In the recent past, however, the blogger that has featured us most often is the journalist and author Wendy Wallace, whose novel The Painted Bridge is slated for publication later this year. Wendy visited the Archives & Museum last year, and asked the Archivist to choose five items from its collections that were especially worthy of note. Faced with what he knew to be an embarrassment of riches, the Archivist initially demurred, but reminded of the precedent of British Museum’s History of the World project website (on which items held by the Archives & Museum are featured), he at last relented. His choices, as recounted by Wendy, were: the Cibber statues, John Munro’s 1766 medical journal, James Tilly Matthews’ sketch of the Air Loom, Henry Hering’s photographic portraits of Bethlem patients, and the artwork of William Kurelek.

Coincidentally, it is anticipated that the cover of The Painted Bridge will feature artwork strongly reminiscent of a cartoon drawn by a Bethlem patient of the nineteenth century, which was the subject of our recent In the Frame post.

The Air Loom Gang

James Tilly Matthews’ sketch of The Air Loom Gang, c. 1800

Curatorial Conversations II

We are grateful for the response received to the first of our posts in our series on Curatorial Conversations, which we hope will inform thinking and practice here at the Archives & Museum as we look toward our intended relocation.

With this series we hope to stimulate an ongoing discussion with as wide a range of our stakeholders as possible. Another of our ‘conversation partners’ is Coleborne and MacKinnon’s recently published Exhibiting Madness in Museums, which, as we mentioned in our previous post, raises a number of insistent questions about exhibitions on psychiatric history. Coleborne and MacKinnon’s work is most relevant to our concerns when it addresses the issue of how psychiatric collections may best be exhibited.

The limited number of psychiatric collections that have been open to the public have met a number of standard responses: large percentages of the viewing public decide to stay away from exhibitions that focus on mental health history; a voyeuristic proportion of the public simply want to gaze at the mad; and finally, former patients, family members, friends and staff, as well as some members of the general public, are interested in attempting to gain a clearer understanding of the experiences of patients and practitioners in psychiatric institutions.

The authors go on to touch upon the issue (hotly contested among museum professionals) of whether there may be some things that are simply unexhibitable.

Sensitive and compassionate exhibitions about specific institutions have found critical acclaim from sections of the viewing public… However, these successes have been complicated and far outweighed by the large proportion of the general public who voraciously consume the private, fee-entry, worldwide travelling collections, such as Gunther von Hagens’ plastination body part shows, as well as his live autopsy shows, some of which have made use of former psychiatric patients’ bodies.1

[to be continued]

1 Catherine Coleborne and Dolly MacKinnon, Exhibiting Madness in Museums: Remembering Psychiatry through Collections and Display (Routledge, 2011), pages 8-9.

Where in the World?

When you’re looking back over your holiday snaps at the end of the summer, spare a thought for the cataloguers at Bethlem Royal Hospital’s Archives & Museum. Every now and then they come across something completely inexplicable in the collection. Here’s one we found a little while ago. The Great Western Railway building to the left of picture (at the top of the harbour slipway) suggests that it is a West Country harbour town, pictured in the late nineteenth, or early twentieth, century. The church looks distinctive, but our knowledge of English ecclesiastical architecture is not encyclopaedic. We’d be glad of assistance with this one. Just add your comment. Once we know which town this is, we’ll start work finding out how a photograph of it came to be in our possession.

Harbour with Church